A HOME WITH JUST THE RIGHT TOUCH : Alzheimer's Sufferers Receive a Large Dose of TLC at Anaheim Board and Care Facility

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

At 94, Rose Williams suffers from Alzheimer's disease, which wreaks havoc with her memory.

But she nevertheless recalls growing up in Texas with 10 siblings and a determination to go to college.

"I had to chop cotton and pick cotton and everything, but I didn't plow," Williamssaid. "I didn't want anything to do with farming. I wouldn't have married a farmer ifhe was made of gold."

Now, just having a hand to hold and someone to talk to about those times makes Williamshappy. That is one of the goals of the nurses who founded Autumn Years Guest Home whereWilliams lives, a board and care home for victims of Alzheimer's disease.

The nurses, Jennifer Mitchell, Toni DeProsperis and Mary Oliver, met while working as nurses at St. Joseph Hospital in Orange and decided to go into business together. Oliver has since died of cancer but De Prosperis and Mitchell have continued the business, hiring Mitchell's mother, Margaret, as office manager.

About 40,000 people in the county suffer from Alzheimer's, an incurable, degenerative disease that affects the brain. Board and care homes that care for those patients are a growing trend, said Linda Scheck, program director for the Alzheimer's Assn. The Autumn Years home charges $1,500 to $2,000 a month and offers 24-hour supervision, home-cooked meals, nursing and activities geared to people with Alzheimer's.

One of the association's goals is to encourage more board and care homes for Alzheimer's patients, Scheck said. People with Alzheimer's don't necessarily need medical care, she said. But they often do need help dressing and bathing and even remembering to eat.

Floyd Friesen's mother, Mina, lived with his family in Fullerton until her wandering became too much of a problem four years go.

"We looked at some locked facilities that were for mentally deranged people," Friesen said. "My mother was not diagnosed as mentally deranged. We didn't feel she needed that."

Although Autumn Hills is not locked, fences and loud alarms on doors to the outside protect the residents from wandering away.

"Our main goal is to provide a safe environment for these adults and make their day pleasant, not boring," Mitchell said.

Activities include walks, musical entertainment and simple games such as ball and beanbag tosses. Sometimes, activity director Doris MacNeeley pulls out flash cards with pictures from past eras and encourages the women to share memories.

The residents at Autumn Years, 31 women and two men, are placed in houses according to their degree of illness. On a weekday morning in a house for residents with only beginning stages of Alzheimer's, six women sat in easy chairs and rockers watching a soap opera and chatting as the smell of zucchini, carrots and ham cooking wafted from the kitchen.

At another house, where residents are not able to carry on conversations, they still can sing along as MacNeeley furiously pumps the player piano, producing strains of "Peg O' My Heart."

"The first week I was here, I was kind of mind-boggled. I thought, what can I do with people who can't do the things you want them to do? But it became a natural. I learned they learned what they like to do," MacNeeley said.

Sometimes music will draw people out better than conversation or other activities, MacNeeley said. One woman, a former church choir singer, doesn't talk at all but sings and hums to the music.

Family members are allowed and encouraged to remain a part of the residents' lives. The family of Sara Murphy recently descended on Autumn Years to celebrate her 86th birthday.

"We had entertainment, dancing and singing. It was a lot of fun," said Murphy's daughter, Maureen Towey. "The grandchildren, nieces and nephews were able to come. We had as much fun as the residents of Autumn Years."

Fred Graham, 81, whose wife, Betty, recently moved here, visits her every day after lunch and stays until after dinner. The couple have been married for 58 years and spend much of the day alone together, including dining in the kitchen away from the others.

The average stay for Autumn Years residents is six months to three years, Mitchell said. As the disease progresses, Alzheimer's victims may suffer from dramatic weight loss or may not be able to walk around safely anymore. Autumn Years is not licensed to provide care to those in wheelchairs or who use walkers.

"When we feel we can no longer provide a safe environment for them, we encourage them to go on to a convalescent home," MacNeeley said.

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